Some sports fans call Cleveland "Believeland" because of the city's devotion to teams that never win (the recent Cavaliers championship aside). Writer-director Steven Caple Jr.'s indie crime drama "The Land" drops the "believe," which fits his take on inner-city Cleveland as a community without hope.
"The Land" follows a group of teenage skate-rats who make money stealing cars and accidentally break into the big time when they stumble across bags of pills that they decide to sell. While they're out enjoying their new lives as rich drug dealers, they inadvertently run afoul of "Momma" (Linda Emond), the neighborhood's seemingly kindly, secretly ruthless kingpin.
Caple's script is similar to other modern crime pictures such as "Animal Kingdom" (another story about small-time crooks led by a sweet-faced lady) and "Dope" (which takes a more comedic approach to amateur drug-dealing). The big difference is the setting: a Rust Belt city where poor kids are tracked through vocational education to prepare for jobs that no longer exist.
A grim predictability works against this film; and because the cast is populated by young actors who've been in the business for years, "The Land" has a slickness that belies its subject.
Still, the Cleveland locations — along with some memorable visual flourishes via skateboard tricks — show that Caple has a unique eye and a strong sense of place. Here's hoping that next time he applies them to a fresher story.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills